Will the enterprise help triple Chromebook sales by 2017?

Sales of Google's Chromebooks to businesses could hit eight million a year by 2018, according to Gartner.
Written by Liam Tung, Contributing Writer

Sales of low-cost Chromebooks are expected to crack the five million mark this year, and could triple to 14.4 million units by 2017, according to analyst firm Gartner.

Bucking the broader trend in the PC market, which is showing small signs of recovery after two years of decline, sales of Chromebooks are on the rise. With sales of 5.2 million forecast this year, the Chrome OS-powered laptops should beat last year's sales by 79 percent, according to Gartner.

In 2013, 2.9 million Chromebooks were sold across the world, dominated by Chromebook first-movers Samsung and Acer, with 64.9 percent and 21.4 percent of sales respectively. The pair were followed by HP and Lenovo, neck and neck with 6.8 percent and 6.7 percent each.

Despite the impressive growth, Chromebooks are still a niche product and highly dependent on a single sector: education. According to Gartner, in 2013 the education sector accounted for nearly 85 percent of Chromebook sales. Demand for the devices is also very localised: last year, 82 percent of all sales came from North America.

With schools being nearly the only significant segment for the Chrome OS powered netbooks, where will Gartner's forecasted threefold increase in sales come from?

According to Gartner, it will be "continuing demand in the education sector"; "increased adoption of cloud computing by businesses and consumers"; and "retail purchases by consumers wanting a simple device for daily computing". 

A growing part of the Chromebook market, according to Isabelle Durand, principal analyst at Gartner, will be business users, such as workers in banking, financial services, estate agents, and hotel receptionists.

"So far, businesses have looked at Chromebooks, but not bought many. By adopting Chromebooks and cloud computing, businesses can benefit; they can shift their focus from managing devices to managing something much more important — their data," said Durand. The company expects HP to lead the charge for business Chromebooks, due to its large installed base in the enterprise market.

Share of Chromebook sales by consumers and business
Share of Chromebook sales by consumers and business. Image: Gartner

Google has been throwing more at making Chromebooks appealing to the enterprise, hoping to capture interest from businesses still running the now unsupported Windows XP.

Earlier this year it partnered with VMWare to deliver virtualised Windows to Chrome OS devices and with Asus to make a $179 Chromebox desktop. It's also launched the Google+ Hangouts hardware Chromebox for videoconferencing in business.

Despite these efforts, there is still a mismatch between Chromebooks and most enterprises on the collaboration front. As ZDNet has previously pointed out, Chromebooks lack support for Microsoft’s Skype and of greater importance in businesses, Lync.

According to Gartner, Google and its Chromebook hardware partners have much to do if they want the market to break out of its niche status over the next five years.

"Making a competitive Chromebook is not just a matter of hardware and price; what is most important is to show how the device's cloud-based architecture provides genuine advantages to users," said Durand.

Features from hardware makers that would address this include faster connectivity, faster memory access, faster and larger solid-state drives, and strong user support in the education, business and consumer segments, according to Gartner.

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